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Scouting a New Trek: Tibet’s Monasteries & Mountains

By Vassi Koutsaftis | January 9, 2018

Legendary GeoEx trip leader Vassi Koutsaftis has been traveling and trekking in Tibet for more than 30 years and loves getting off the beaten track. His new trek, Monasteries & Mountains of Central Tibet, does just that, rambling through the beautiful Yangpachen Valley and stopping into little-visited monasteries and villages. Vassi returned to Tibet recently to research the last details of his trip, including stops at iconic sites in Lhasa, Shigatse, and Gyantse, and shares a few of his photos below.

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The Potala Palace in Lhasa: This iconic building and former home to the Dalai Lama is a must-see, even with the large numbers of tourists that visit. At night, it’s especially photogenic.

Jokhang Temple is the most important sacred monastery in Tibet, attracting pilgrims day and night.

The hill-perched Ganden monastery complex, Tibet with GeoEx
East of Lhasa is Ganden, a peaceful, hill-perched monastery complex that not as many travelers visit.  If time allows on our trip, we’ll stop here to meet friendly monks and walk the kora, which takes about one and a half hours.

While trekking across the wide-open plateaus of the Yangpachen Valley, I met these nomads on horseback. They told me they were making their pilgrimage to a monastery.

Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet with GeoEx
Tsurphu Monastery is off the radar and a great place to experience daily life and even a festival. This is where we’ll start our trek.

Yaks graze in the Yangpachen Valley, Tibet with GeoEx
Yaks dot the trails in this area. At the time of my visit, the peaks had just been dusted with snow. The terrain is not technical, but being at about 15,000 feet, it’s no walk in the park!

Tashilunphu Monastery, Tibet with GeoEx
Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse is as big as a town and serves as the seat of the Panchen Lama.

The famed Kumbum chorten in Gyantse, Tibet with GeoEx
The famed Kumbum chorten in Gyantse is a three-dimensional mandala, representing the cosmos and designed to help people on the path to enlightenment.

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Vassi Koutsaftis is one of our best-loved and most-experienced leaders. He has been traveling in Asia for more than 35 years and has been leading treks since 1986. He has been named Best Cultural Guide by Outside magazine and Top Travel Specialist for Tibet from Condé Nast Traveler. More of his photography can be found on his photography website.

To find out more about exploring in Tibet or about GeoEx Treks, call us our Asia experts at 888-570-7108.

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Mary Richter
Mary Richter
8 months ago

I went to Tibet twice, about 10 yrs apart and Nepal also with Vassi. wish I could go again, always wonderful..both him and the treks but I’m 86 now.. so if you can. GO!

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